The Smarter Playground

The best play spaces exercise the body -- and the mind.


The Smarter Playground

Playgrounds can be wonderful recreational arenas for kids. They offer chances for fun, muscle and motor development, creativity, and social growth. "Unfortunately, too many spaces in the United States rely on flat surfaces and generic equipment and ignore the natural topography and vegetation that spark children's creativity," says Roger Hart, Ph.D., codirector of the Children's Environments Research Group at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. "They imply that you don't need nature to have fun, you just need manufactured equipment." This is in direct contrast to playgrounds in countries like England and Germany, which often incorporate animals, gardens, and running water and are often staffed, says Dr. Hart, who has consulted on the design of dozens of play spaces, including the Playground for All Children in Queens, NY, among the first designed for children with special needs.

There's a new trend in playgrounds, however, with interactive areas that evoke the natural landscape to combine play and learning. "We're slowly starting to see more spaces that are enriching for children in numerous ways," says Robin Moore, playground designer and professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The one pictured here, Chase Palm Park* in Santa Barbara, CA, is an example of this shift in thinking.

* Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc. (, in association with George Girvin Associates, collaborated to design this award-winning park. Working with local artists, MIG developed the design concept for the park that reflected the city and the site's history, including a shipwreck that once occurred off the coast.

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